Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Disquisition on Time

Augustine went about things the wrong way in dealing with the problem of time but he was only following the way of most men. The tripartite division of time (past, present and future) is a social and individual convenience but any attempt to investigate it more truthfully within those terms is going to fail. Why? Because there is no present that can be a part of consciousness if it can exist at all. Scientists have measured, it would seem, time to 250 billionths of a billionth of a second. There is no reason to believe that this is the end of the matter. Time is already past when the much slower processing power of the human mind has done its job and called it 'the present'.

There is only a functional and useful illusion of present-ness, made up of two processes that relate to one another and which create this illusion of the present where they interface - that which has happened and that which is to happen. It is this interface that is interesting because, constantly moving attosecond by attosecond, it is simply a perceptual set of instant choices between memory and habit on the one hand and modelling and anticipation on the other. This is 'us' - the object of perception that has been created facing events that create the subject perceiving its own past.

This is why all philosophies of 'present-ness' or fixity are absurd and only philosophies of change and adaptation can make sense of what we are. Time can be dealt with conservatively - as an attempt to control the future through fixing events in a pre-set model of the future - or progressively - as a flowing into the future without fixity. Neither approach is wise in itself - one is a noble lie that leads to a sclerosis that cannot cope with new events outside the control of the person while the other is an impossibility, leading to self-destruction based on a lack of respect for the role of experience in managing events. Each type of mind wars on the other because there is no point of agreement.

One must choose one's balance of models for the conquest of time - traditionalist (the day, month and year like every previous unit), social (measured time and socialised time designed to construct collaboration between persons) or creative (following the rhythms of the body and desire in which the modelling mind constructs its time). Sun and moon are 'facts on the ground' (or in the 'ether'), planetary motions can be constructed into a magical socialisation of time and clocks from a scientific one, but, with all due regard to the facts of nature and of culture, the most interesting time is the personal one.

Personal time is a constant coming-to-be as it-ceases-to-be horizon of events - we are vehicles moving in a straight line with no stopping off point except our own extinction. Our most essential clock is the inner one, a clock made up of living tissue, honed by evolution, connected to both the natural and the social but driven by will. Our experience of time is neurological. Our use of time is social. We cannot command the process but we can command our choices - of what things in the past to use for the future (perhaps this is a definition of fearless intelligence in itself) and what things in the future that we wish to attain (the desire).

Intelligence and desire in forward flow are what we are at our best. Philosophies of stasis operate against both desire and intelligence - worse, since the flow is what is, they are the path to a death-in-life, an attempt to reach the goal by stopping the train long before it comes to its final station.